Here’s an article I recently wrote for an online women’s writing website.
Sometimes looking back, helps you move forward!
Thanks for reading and be well.
Here’s an article I recently wrote for an online women’s writing website.
Sometimes looking back, helps you move forward!
Thanks for reading and be well.
Help celebrate by my book’s release by buying one (or more) copies to give to family and friends. This book is the perfect gift for Mother’s Day or any day! It is also the perfect summer reading–tasty and satisfying like a good ice cream cone.
Seeing Ceremony, a feel-good, stand-alone sequel to the award-winning My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes, is all about family, love, good food and finding one’s way back home.
Author Louise Miller (author of The Late Bloomers’ Club and The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living), says this about the book, “Seeing Ceremony is a rich coming of age novel, full of myth and legend, romance, and the heady tastes and scents of India. It is a love letter to both place and family—the ingredients that make home home. Meera Klein is a natural born story teller—I felt as if I were sitting at the kitchen table as she told me this story—and Seeing Ceremony is truly a feast for ALL of the senses. A true delight.”
The book is now available on Amazon, B&N and Homeboundpublications.com. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my book and let me know what you think. If you enjoyed this book, please write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. These reviews help both the author and other readers. Links provided below.
If you are part of a book club, please consider Seeing Ceremony as your next read.
Best wishes to you and your family. Stay safe.
This photo was taken a couple of years before his death. Here Duke is enjoying the New Year display. He’s gazing into his wise brown eyes and hoping the wrapped toy is his on the far side of the table!
Has the mid-April blahs and stress got you down? Then I have a suggestion for you!
Join the millions of people from Kerala (and me) and celebrate the start of a New Year on April 14th. It is a simple ritual that will ground you and bring balance to your life. A note: While the celebration is linked to Hinduism, you don’t have to be a Hindu or even believe in God to share in this timeless ceremony.
So this is how you can get started:
On April 13th evening do the following:
You have now created Vishu Kanni or New Year display.
On the morning of the 14th, get up and before your morning coffee (yes!), wash your face. Light the candle and sit in front of your display, if possible. Look closely at the flower or sprig, the fruits and vegetables, the grains and legumes, the nice table cloth and the coins and jewelry. Look at the photographs of your loved ones.
As you gaze at the kanni, you are welcoming everything that is good into your life and future. Finally, look at your reflection in the mirror. All that is marvelous and wonderful is reflected in your eyes. Look deep into your eyes until you see the glimmer of hope and light that is in you. Invite all that is positive, prosperous and amazing into your life and into the lives of your loved ones.
You have now observed and welcomed in a new year, Kerala style. Happy Vishu 2020!
Once upon a time there was a young girl who dreamed of adventures. She would look up at the bright blue sky imagining she was flying away in one of those rare airplanes she glimpsed from her hilltop home in the Nilgiris, the Blue Mountains of south India.
It took nearly 20 years but one day she found herself on a plane flying off to faraway California, leaving behind her mother and sister. Under the loving and watchful eyes of her uncle and aunt she thrived. She loved campus life and learning. But one day she met a boy and her life changed all over again.
He looked like he belonged on a beach with blond hair, tanned skin and bright blue eyes but he was actually from New Jersey.
With her uncle and aunt’s blessing, the young girl returned to south India and soon the young man joined her. They asked her mother if they could get married.
The mother was taken aback but quickly adjusted to the idea and soon set a date for the wedding. It was decided the ceremony would be held on September 14, the same day as Onam or the harvest festival. It was a simple ceremony in a humble home decorated with Nilgiri roses and fresh jasmine garlands.
In a real fairy tale the story would end with “happily ever after.” But this is real life and so the young couple’s life was full of ups and downs, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow but 33 years later they are still together. To paraphrase Robert Browning “Grow old with me. The best is yet to be….”
We were married 33 years ago because we wanted to but it turned out we were trend setters of a sort. Our house has been a multi-cultural, blended home for decades. Our sons are beige-brown with Indian names. We celebrate Christmas along with Vishu and Onam. So it is natural that our dinner plates reflect our diverse background. We have channa dal on pizza with mozzarella and masala dosa with kale and cheddar cheese.
This pasta dish celebrates my husband’s Italian heritage and love of pasta and my south Indian roots. Sometimes a melting pot truly is a delicious meal.
Pesto-fused Indian Uppma
This is a very forgiving recipe. You can increase or decrease the amount of pasta and veggies. Add a cup of cooked chickpeas for extra protein. Add thyme, oregano or other fresh herbs for flavor. Use a spoonful of nutritional yeast to make it savory.
1 pound pasta, any type, use chickpea pasta for GF version
4 tablespoons ghee (or vegetable oil), divided
1 tsp. brown/black mustard seeds
2 cups diced onions, white or yellow
1 cup diced pepper, any color
1 jalapeño, diced (optional but the heat is tasty!)
1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¾ tsp salt, more as needed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons prepared pesto (or ½ cup chopped basil, if you don’t have pesto)
1 tomato, chopped
4 cups veggies, any type. I used broccoli, carrots and potato. Turnips, peas, corn, zucchini, asparagus and eggplants are some choices. In winter use squash, sweet potato and root veggies
Optional toppings: fresh basil, dry roasted cashews
Cook pasta according to directions, drain, reserving ½ cup water and toss with 2 tablespoons ghee.
Meanwhile, heat remaining ghee in a skillet with a top. Add mustard seeds and allow them to pop and turn grey. Immediately add chopped onions, peppers, ginger and jalapeno. Sauté for about five minutes. Add chopped veggies, tomato and salt. Cook, covered, for about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on type of vegetables, just don’t overcook the vegetables.
Remove skillet from heat, add lemon juice and pesto or basil leaves, stir to combine. Use your fingers to separate pasta (if it is sticking together) and add in small batches to the vegetable mixture, mixing thoroughly each time. Taste for salt.
For a fantastic taste sensation, serve with banana raita. Or serve with spicy tomato chutney. Or just eat it plain!
Recently instead of a birthday cake, my son requested a jar of his favorite condiment—injeepully.
For those who don’t know, injeepully is a tart and tangy combination of ginger and tamarind, and is a must-have accompaniment to holiday meals for the people of Kerala.
This condiment, a true Kerala invention, is said to bring taste buds to life. In fact, there is a saying in Malayalam (roughly translated) that even the simplest meal becomes a feast when injeepully is served.
Now this sauce is not without controversy! The name injee (ginger) and pully (tamarind) is what my mother’s family called the condiment but on my father’s side it was called pullyinjee. After all, what is in a name, especially if the ingredients are the same? Apparently a lot, if you believe my relatives.
But whatever you call it, injeepully is totally delicious and addictive. I remember my first taste of the spicy sauce which set my three-year-old tongue on fire. My father gave me a spoonful of creamy sweet cardamom pudding to dampen the heat in my mouth. So a new favorite flavor combination was born.
My son, now 27, has always had a bold palate. His favorite snack as a toddler was slices of fresh Asian pears smeared with a bit of ripe bleu cheese and topped off with a piece of raw walnut. No pretzels or Gold Fish for this kid.
Along with his favorite injeepully, I also made him fresh mango pickle. We used to call this dish “hurry-up pickle” in our family because my sister and I were always asking my mother to hurry up and finish tempering the mango so we could mix it with rice and yogurt and gobble it down.
Mango pickle is simple to prepare. Peel and dice a green (unripe) mango. Toss the mango with some red cayenne pepper and salt. Temper the pickle by heating a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and adding a teaspoon of black/brown mustard seeds. When the seeds pop and turn grey, add a sprig of fresh curry leaves and toss the mango/chili mixture in the warm oil. Hurry-up pickle is ready!
The injeepully recipe can be found in My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes. Or you can see my super simple easy version below.
Exciting News: Turns out the doors to My Mother’s Kitchen will once again be open. Look for news about the upcoming sequel in the coming weeks. Find out what happens to Meena and her family.
Simple Injeepully recipe: This is my version of the spicy condiment.
Use tamarind that comes in a block (available in Indian/Middle Eastern stores). Soak a generous knob, the size of a medium lemon, of tamarind in about 2 cups of hot water while you prep the ginger. Once the tamarind is soft, use your fingers to dissolve the pulp and strain the tamarind. You should have about 1½ cups or so of tamarind water. Meanwhile, peel and finely dice some ginger (about ¼ cup). Chop a green chili or two. Set aside. Heat oil in a pan, add brown/black mustard seeds and when they pop and turn grey, immediately add the diced ginger, chilies, a sprig of curry leaves and a generous spoonful of fenugreek seeds. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tamarind water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Season with ½ to 1 tsp salt and 4-8 tablespoons of brown sugar. Other additions: Fresh or dried turmeric, a pinch of hing or asafetida.
Over time a family story can become a folktale of epic proportion, a true inspiration to all who hear it. This one is about my great-aunt Ammalu.
The story begins in a sleepy little village deep in south India. Here Ammalu and her sister Pearl grew up surrounded by countless cousins, aunts and uncles. Ammalu was the older sister, the one with a sense of adventure. She loved going on outings to visit neighbors and relatives. She had a knack for storytelling and an easy going nature. Pearl was shy and more at home in the kitchen with a flair for pastry making.
Little Ammalu was rumored to have a sweet tooth. In those days there was no candy or chocolate bars and so she indulged in what grew in her backyard from large juicy mangoes, tasty papayas to bananas in all sizes, but her favorite was the jackfruit.
The jackfruits from our family orchards were legendary in their size and flavor. It would take two men to cut down the gigantic fruit and lug it into the family courtyard. The fresh fruit would be placed on an old cotton sari and one of the men would use an enormous knife to cut into the tough skin. As the jackfruit was cut open the entire courtyard would be filled with its fruity fragrance. The milky fluid from the jackfruit would flow onto the sari and children would be held back so that they wouldn’t get any of the sticky sap on their fingers. The women would be waiting, ready to dip oily fingers into the cut fruit. The coconut oil was necessary to keep the sap from sticking onto fingers and eager hands. The tiny strands would be pushed aside to get into the thick pods of creamy yellow fruit. Each pod contained one large seed, which would be cleaned and saved for later use. The seed had a sweet nutty taste, very similar to roasted chestnuts.
The best jackfruit was sweet and juicy with a hint of tartness and a pleasing crunch. Overripe jackfruit was sometimes stringy and too sweet. Ammalu loved this unique and delicious fruit. When everyone had enough of the fresh fruit, the leftovers were cooked down with jaggery sugar and stored in crock pots. In the cool pantry, the jackfruit jam fermented into caramel-like goo with a pungent odor that was pleasant only to the true fan of jackfruit. Ammalu must have had a discerning palate because she loved eating scoops of this odoriferous jam. It was also made into special puddings.
Life in our tiny ancestral village was simple. There was not much in the way of entertainment and so everyone looked forward to visits from roaming troupes of actors. These troupes of mostly men would enact scenes from Indian myths and legends. Perhaps it was one of these actors who told Ammalu about the wonders of travel and of a special city dedicated to Lord Shiva.
This holy place was called Benares (or Varanasi or Kashi) and situated near the Bihar border in the faraway state of Uttar Pradesh. Visiting this holy city and bathing in the even holier Ganges became an obsession with Ammalu. Perhaps one of the actors or someone in the family pointed out that after visiting Benares the pilgrim would have to give up a favorite food. Ammalu knew what she would give up.
She was in her early forties when she finally had an opportunity to take her dream trip. In the years after her pilgrimage when relatives offered her a piece of fresh jackfruit, she would shake her head and say, “I just returned from Kashi,” and everyone immediately understood why she said no to her favorite snack. She died at the age of 88 and never tasted jackfruit again.
A decade or so ago my family and I visited Benares to scatter my uncle’s ashes. We found the city to be a study in contrasts. The grime and dirt didn’t deter from the city’s beauty and timeless quality. The Ganges was a lazy ribbon of water with a lot of floating debris but as I watched the orange glow of the tropical sunset, I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of peace and calm. A holy city will do that to you. I imagined Ammalu must have experienced that same serenity as she bathed in the Ganges and vowed never to eat jackfruit again.
She would have never dreamed that her pilgrimage and personal sacrifice would inspire the next generation. Recently I decided to challenge myself by giving up sugar for a few months and great-aunt Ammalu’s uplifting story has been a marvelous example for me.
The least tangible (and material) legacy we leave behind will endure the longest. Perhaps the next generation will remember you for your kindness, your grace under pressure or your selfless love. That is a legacy worth striving for!
A life in purple, and service
“Feliks is the heart and soul of Patwin. A most remarkable man with a remarkable history, he will be missed by many and loved by all.” ~~Kate Bowen, former Patwin teacher.
We met him on a hot August morning in 1999. My son, then a seven-year-old, and I were on an informal tour of Patwin Elementary School in west Davis. We had just moved to Davis and my son was intimidated by the size of his new school. We stood near the lunch tables, looking a little lost. Just then we heard a heavily accented voice singing, “Happy Friday to you! Happy Friday to you!”
My son looked up at me, “Doesn’t he know it’s Thursday?”
I shrugged and turned around and there he was, a neatly dressed man wearing a white hat. He noticed us right away and came over. He held out a large meaty hand to my son, “Hello, my brother.”
He then turned to me, “Hello, my princess. You are new to Patwin?”
I nodded and said we were looking for the library. (The most important building in my mind).
“Let me show you. I’m Feliks. Come brother.”
And just like that I saw the tension go out of my son’s body. He stood up a little taller and with a bright look in his brown eyes, he followed Feliks down the steps to the library (which was the most beautiful welcoming room I had ever seen).
“Is he the principal?” my son asked me.
It was only much later I learned Feliks Krupa was the custodian at our school. This may have been his official job title but his unofficial one should have been “master of all.” He took care of everyone and everything. Need the MPR for sixth-grade Grad night? Talk to Feliks. Need help with moving a desk? Need a cleanup in a classroom? Call Feliks!
Former principal Mike Parker put it best, “Fortunately when I became principal of Patwin I was experienced enough to know who really runs the school… the secretaries and the custodian. It didn’t take me long to realize the school had a custodian extraordinaire! Felix’s “ hello my darlings” amazing whistled, morning greetings and ability to make all kids feel special and noticed helped me start each day with a smile knowing we were in good hands. Thanks Feliks- you will always be my favorite custodian.”
Over the next few years I watched Feliks interact with staff and students and he was a one-man welcome party. Scared little boys and girls shook off their parents’ hands and ran to greet Feliks, forgetting to be nervous. He brought his unique brand of humor to every situation.
Perhaps it was his upbringing in Poland or the fact he spent time in a prison for his support of the Solidarity labor unions along with the charismatic Polish activist Lech Walesa that was partly responsible for making Feliks so perfect for his job at Patwin.
Current Patwin principal, Gay Bourguignon added, “Feliks has always been more than a custodian. He had made students and families feel welcome at Patwin. He has brightened all our days with his cheerful greetings and caring ways. Feliks is our eyes and ears keeping our campus safe. He knows when a student or staff member is struggling and gives them a little extra TLC. By my count, he has touched the lives of over 10,000 students during his tenure at Patwin. He has trained at least seven principals! I have so appreciated all he has done to help me and take care of our school community.”
Keeping Patwinners safe was his primary objective. With that in mind, Feliks was responsible for setting up the “peanut-free” table at lunch and I have no doubt this was one of the reasons my son never had an allergic reaction while attending Patwin.
There are probably 10,000 stories about Feliks floating around the Patwin community. Here’s one from teacher Sarbjit Nahal, “Our Thursday morning coffee dates discussing politics, telling jokes and teaching Feliks about filtering what he says are priceless moments I will always cherish in my life. If I was ever late for our Thursday morning coffee date, Feliks would send out an APB! I mean literally, I would get a phone call or text from my colleagues Tyshawn or Linda wondering where I was.”
Just as he has celebrated or commiserated with many of the staff and students, Patwin community has shared many celebrations with Feliks. There was his yearly birthday celebration in November where staff members (Kate Bowen and Suzanne Fortin Morgan) outdid themselves each year decorating the staff room in unique and colorful ways. We all waved the American flag when Feliks became a US citizen in 2000 and we were all worried when he was ill.
Feliks and I shared a love of good food. He always requested samosas for his birthdays. So teacher Sarbjit Nahal and I took turns bringing in the spicy Indian snack. Two years ago I made some Pierogis for his birthday. “They are just like what my mother used to make,” he told me, a kind and wonderful compliment. He was always giving me large jars of his favorite sauerkraut and so when I made a batch of the fermented cabbage dish, I of course had to share some with him.
We are the lucky to have had Feliks in our lives and I’m sorry generations of new Patwinners will never get to know him.
As former Patwin principal Michelle Flowers puts it, “Feliks was my protector. I knew he always had my back and that he deeply cared for ALL kids. He has a big voice and even bigger heart. Feliks is part of the heart of Patwin and while he will be deeply missed, I bet there will be lot of Feliks sightings. Love you Feliks!”
When I told my now-grown son that Feliks was retiring, he said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Patwin will never be the same.”
But I like to think years from now, a little boy or girl will sit on Feliks’ commemorative bench and run their fingers over his name and for a moment they will hear “hey brother or hi princess” in the soft breeze and feel an invisible hug from Feliks. The boy or girl will feel welcome and safe on that special black bench. Because after all you really can’t take Feliks out of Patwin, his booming voice and kindness are entrenched in those pale pastel walls.
Happy Retirement Brother Feliks!
Life in the Blue Mountains, Nilgiris, of South India was much simpler during my childhood. Back then it was a small world where service was close and personal. Our milk was delivered by a young woman named Helen who’s family also grew the most beautiful and fragrant roses. (Years later we bought huge bouquets of the colorful blooms for our wedding). The baker was a family man who made sure he gave us the freshest coconut buns. Every winter the tangerine man came to our front door with a basket filled with tiny orange fruit, juicy and tart.
Even though our town was a sprawling tourist attraction, it was like living in a small village. After my father’s death the entire town kept a close eye on my sister and me. The stationary store owner, Rajan, knew when we had important exams and was ready to sell us the latest in fountain pens. The Alankar Bakery owner gave us an extra cookie or raisin-studded bun and always inquired about my mother and uncle (it didn’t matter to that he had never met my uncle!).
There was an invisible grapevine that was almost as effective as Twitter! My mother heard all the important news of the day from her bus driver on her way home from work as a school teacher. So of course she knew right away the one day I had left our school campus during lunch hour to visit the local bazaar. Surprisingly I didn’t get in trouble but it gave me pause because I knew there were a lot of eyes on me. Small world, big connections!
I missed those personal interactions when I moved to California more than 30 years ago but I found another village in the city of Davis. For the past 19 years I have discovered that this college town has a small-town heart. Small world, big connections.
Case in point: Recently I participated in a community theater production and was pleasantly surprised to see the cashier from the local supermarket in the audience. After the performance she hugged me and told me she’d see me at the store soon. Another example of small world, big connections.
Social media can fool us into thinking that we are making personal connections while seated in front of our laptop computer or smart phone, but I have found that nothing beats face-to-face interactions.
So this coming year (April 14th we celebrated Vishu or Kerala New Year) I hope you will find the joy of life in the real world, away from the small screen.
Meatless Meal in Minutes
Welcome to a new year!
Our household is a melting pot, a microcosm of America. Here East meets West in harmony (mostly).
This fusion and mingling of cultures is most evident in my cooking. My kitchen does not discriminate. Mustard seeds co-mingle with Italian pasta. Monterey Jack Cheese melts in homemade Indian Chapatti bread. Kale and eggplant simmer in coconut milk. Feta cheese adds a tangy bite to warm potato salad.
Take tonight’s dinner for example. The menu consisted of angel hair pasta with an Indian twist and cauliflower and chard tossed with toasted almond slices. The entire meal took less than 20 minutes to cook and was tasty as it was colorful. Can harmony in the kitchen translate into world peace? Perhaps not. But I like to think it is a step in the right direction and that I’m bringing people together, one plate at a time.
So here’s my recipe for world harmony!
South Indian Pasta
1 package De Cecco Angel Hair pasta, cook for barely 2 minutes and then drain and soak in cold water.
You will need:
1 large onion chopped
1 sprig curry leaf
2-4 tablespoons channa dal (Indian yellow split peas)
2-4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 can of beans, any kind, drained. I used white beans
1-2 tsp. turmeric powder
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
1-2 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt
Juice of one lemon
Heat a large pot, add desired amount of oil. Warm. Add mustard seeds and allow the seeds to pop. Immediately add chopped onion, sprig of curry leaf and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add channa dal and continue cooking until the dal is brown and toasty. Stir in turmeric powder. Add beans and coriander leaves. Stir. Drain pasta and add to the pot. Sprinkle Himalayan Pink Salt. Stir. Add lemon juice. Stir and taste for salt.
I head cauliflower, cut into florets
I bunch chard, rinsed and chopped roughly into pieces, stem and all
Steam the vegetables for about 5 minutes, don’t overcook.
While vegetables are steaming…heat a tablespoon of butter plus one tablespoon olive oil. Add generous half cup sliced almonds. Stir and cook the almonds until they are golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Add steamed vegetables to the almonds. Stir. Add 1 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt. If you want you can squeeze some lemon juice over the vegetables but they taste fine without the juice.
Dinner is served. Sit in quiet peace and enjoy.